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Kyle Larson’s Knoxville Nationals title quest in doubt after struggles

Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 - Qualifying

LOUDON, NEW HAMPSHIRE - JULY 19: Kyle Larson, driver of the #42 McDonald’s Chevrolet, looks on during qualifying for the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series Foxwoods Resort Casino 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 19, 2019 in Loudon, New Hampshire. (Photo by Chris Trotman/Getty Images)

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Kyle Larson failed to qualify for Saturday night’s Knoxville Nationals A main on Wednesday and will have to return to Knoxville Raceway on Friday, but he told The Athletic he was unsure if he would be able to come back because of his NASCAR commitments this weekend at Michigan International Speedway.

Larson finished third in last year’s Knoxville Nationals and was second the year before that. His father, Mike, told the Des Moines Register a year ago that “the Knoxville Nationals is No. 1 on the bucket list” for his son.

A point system is used to partially set the field for Saturday night’s Knoxville Nationals. About 100 cars are entered and the field is split into Wednesday and Thursday races. The top 16 in points combined from the two nights advance to Saturday’s main event. The next 10 spots are locked into Saturday’s B main. The rest of the field returns to race Friday to set their positions in the various races Saturday.

Points are awarded for qualifying, heat races and the A, B and C mains. Larson finished sixth in the B main on Wednesday and did not advance to that night’s A main. He finished the night ranked 21st in points, meaning he will need to return to race Friday to better his standing for Saturday’s races. If Larson didn’t compete Friday, he’d be so deep in the various mains that lead to the Knoxville Nationals that his chances of reaching that race would be minimal.

With Cup at Michigan this weekend, it complicates things. Cup qualifying begins at 5:05 p.m. ET. Friday. Because Larson qualified in the top 20 last weekend at Watkins Glen, he’ll be in the back half of the qualifying draw Friday.

He would then need to fly to Iowa to compete that night and return to Michigan. Cup practice begins at 8:35 a.m. ET Saturday. Final Cup practice goes from 11:30 a.m. - 12:20 p.m. ET. Then he would have to fly back to Iowa to compete that night and return for Sunday’s Cup race at Michigan.

Larson told The Athletic after Wednesday’s races he had yet to talk to any Chip Ganassi Racing officials about the possibility of racing at Knoxville on Friday.

Trey Starks won Wednesday’s A main at Knoxville. James McFadden, who is driving in placed of an injured Kasey Kahne, finished second.